Fifteen Questions with Wynton Marsalis
1. Fifteen Minutes: You lead a jazz band but you don’t conduct – what does leadership mean if it comes from the fourth trumpet?
Wynton Marsalis: In a jazz band, the drummer conducts. A leader must embody a spirit. The leader embodies the spirit, and the musicians choose to follow it. That’s how it goes ... but I rehearse the band, you know what I mean? That’s how I lead. There’s a hierarchy, a check down system built on mutual respect and understanding. My band has chosen to accept my leadership.
2. FM: In your lecture, you associated generations with specific musical and dance styles. Which genre of music will speak for my generation?
WM: There is the ignorance, the objectification of women. But there’s something other than that, too. I don’t know what it is. Every generation is defined by something. I have kids your age, we talk about cultural objectives and music. When we speak about it, they say they notice mass crossover. My son tells me that Lil’ Wayne is making a rock album; Rihanna is trying to appeal to the middle ground. They are all just trying to make big money.
3. FM: Do you dance? What are your favorite moves?
WM: I’m not a good dancer. I’m more of the “second-line” type. But I grew up with the dog, the freak, the worm. Remember the worm?
(WM orders Tabasco for his omelet)
FM: Good, you know how to eat an omelet.
WM: It’s a sign of civilization. Tabasco is a sure sign of civilization.
4. FM: How important is it for musicians to know the roots of jazz in America?
WM: It depends on what their aspirations are. It’s like knowing things about someone you are going to marry. If you are going to marry someone, you better know things about them. You better be serious about them. If you are serious about music, know its history.